"Eliza Naumann (Flora Cross) has no reason to believe she is anything but ordinary. Her father Saul (Richard Gere), a beloved university professor, dotes on her talented elder brother Aaron (Max Minghella). Her scientist mother, Miriam (Juliette Binoche), seems consumed by her career. When a spelling bee threatens to reaffirm her mediocrity, Eliza amazes everyone: she wins. Her newfound gift garners an invitation not only to the national competition, but an entrée into the world of words and Jewish mysticism that have so long captivated her father's imagination. But Eliza's unexpected success hurls the Naumann family dynamic into a tailspin, long-held secrets emerge and she is forced to depend upon her own divination to hold the family together." http://movies.yahoo.com
The movie opens niftily enough with a giant "A" twirling through the sky as it is delivered by helicopter and deposited into the city sign.
We get to see Eliza Nueman (Flora Cross) at her school spelling bee. She wins and she gets put through to the next round, her district's spelling bee. Her teacher gives her a note to take home to her parents to let them know about the upcoming bee. Eliza pushes the note under the door of her father's office where it gets lost in the shuffle of papers. He father Saul (Richard Gere) is a professor of religion, Jewish theology with a special interest in the power of words.
Eliza tells her older brother Aaron about the upcoming spelling bee. He takes her to the bee, which she wins. The local paper covers her win. Eliza thinks her father doesn't care about the bee because he didn't respond to the note she pushed under his door. Aaron assures Eliza that their parents will be thrilled by her win. Aaron tells his dad and mom Miriam (played by Juliette Binoche) about the win and they are both very excited. Saul decides that he will start practicing for the next bee with Eliza.
Meanwhile, mom Miriam is experiencing flashbacks to the deaths of her parents, which she witnessed as a child. Whenever Eliza asks about the deaths of her grandparents, Miriam always tells her that she (Miriam) was away at school when her parents died. We see Miriam driving around in the middle of the day and late at night, entering homes. It's not clear if she's having an affair, breaking into the homes or if she's leading some secret double life. Her family seems unaware of her problems.
Saul is busy helping Eliza study for her upcoming bees; he even sets her up a study area in his office. Aaron starts to feel neglected by both his parents. He is hanging out at a local park reading a book entitled "Are You a Buddhist" when a young blonde girl sits next to him and asks him "So are you? She introduces herself as Chali (Kate Bosworth) and gives him her number and tells him to give her a call if he needs someone to talk to.
Aaron brings Chali by the house at one point while his family is BBQ-ing; the 2 of them say hi and quickly leave. The family assumes that Chali is his girlfriend.
Eliza continues to do well at the spelling bees. Her mom asks what happens to her when she is spelling the words and Eliza explains that when she closes her eyes she can see the words being spelled out, they come alive for her. The words are actually spelled out onscreen as Eliza imagines them. Miriam gives Eliza a favorite shirt of hers to wear for her upcoming bees, to bring her luck.
Saul wakes up one morning to find Miriam asleep at the kitchen table. He asks her what is going on but she brushes him off. She's coming home late and disappearing at all hours and he demands answers but she's evasive.
Late one night Saul gets a call from the police that they have Miriam in custody. Miriam has led the police to a storage unit and they take Saul there to show him what she is doing when she sneaks away from the house. The storage unit is full of items that Miriam has taken from homes she has been breaking into over the last few years. She has been building displays, especially kaleidoscopes with the things she has taken. Saul goes to visit Miriam at the police station and she asks him what he thinks of her work, asking him isn't it beautiful?
Saul decides not to tell the children what is wrong with Miriam, he tells them she is ill and in hospital rather than telling them she is under psychiatric care at a local institution.
Aaron lies and tells his father he is going away camping with school. He sneaks off to the Hare Krishna center where he meets Chali. They both put on orange robes and dance around with the other Hare Krishnas. Aaron later returns home.
Saul has become increasingly convinced that words are spiritual and contain power; this can be attained through chanting and reaching a higher state of being. He encourages Eliza to chant and try and capture the power of the words.
Aaron decides that he has had enough at home and takes off to live at the Hare Krishnacenter. Eliza tells her father where Aaron has gone. Furious, Aaron races over to the center and demands that they give him his son back. Aaron appears in the hallway, with Chali behind him, and reluctantly returns home with his father.
The three of them travel for the big spelling bee championship in Washington (?). Eliza practices chanting in her room the night before the bee and starts levitating off the ground. She collapses onto the ground. Eliza makes it through the earlier rounds of the bee. The night before the big finale she goes to look at the stage where the bee is being held. Eliza wants to see the TV cameras, as she knows that her mother will be watching her compete from the hospital. An employee shows her around the room and points out all the cameras to her. Eliza talks about wanting to win the bee for her mom but the employee tells her that her mom would be pleased whether she won or not.
The next day at the bee it comes down to the final word. Eliza just has to spell one last word and she's won. Miriam is watching from the institution with her psychiatrist. Aaron and Saul are sitting in the audience. Eliza's last word is Origami and Saul is beaming, as he knows that Eliza can spell this word, this was one of their practice words. However Eliza decides that the employee is right, her mother will love her regardless of whether she wins or loses the bee so she deliberately misspells the word and loses. Miriam beams away at the TV screen. Dad Saul breaks down and starts crying in the audience.
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